White supremacist Sam Johnson, subject of 2009 BSP interview, named in federal affidavit

The Star Tribune reports that white supremacist Samuel James Johnson, subject of a 2009 three-part Bluestem interview, is named in a federal affidavit unsealed this week. The last time I saw Sam Johnson was in Minneapolis, watching along the route of a large immigration rights march and rally in Minneapolis.

Amy Forliti reports in Affidavit: 2 Minn. men with ties to supremacist groups had amassed weapons with goal of attack:

Two Minnesota men with suspected ties to white supremacist groups amassed several weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition as part of a plan to attack the government, minorities and others, according to a federal affidavit unsealed this week.

Samuel James Johnson, 31, of Austin, also tried to recruit others to his cause and actively scouted for a training compound in Illinois and Minnesota, the affidavit said. Joseph Benjamin Thomas, 42, of Mendota Heights, told an undercover FBI agent that he had tried to get explosives as part of a plan to "conduct attacks on left-wing individuals," according to the affidavit.

Authorities began looking into Johnson and Thomas in 2010, as part of an investigation into domestic terrorism.

By 2010, both Johnson and Thomas were well-known to immigration rights activists, who began to clash with NSM at immigration workshops and rallies in 2009.

In Immigrants' rights activists vie for attention in Southern Minnesota, a Twin Cities Daily Planet article (reposted in TCDP partner BSP), Hart Van Denburg noted that National Socialist Movement leader Sam Johnson and two others attended immigration workshops that brought out both sides, as the Austin Daily Herald put it in September, 2009.

In October, Bluestem asked another guest writer, Jaime (Brian) Hokanson to submit an article about Johnson's anti-immigration rallies in Austin; Breaking Spamtown's spiral of silence: Austin and Twin Cities activists confront neo-Nazis was the result. Bluestem followed up with a review of NSM activity and press coverage, Backgrounder: 2009 NSM activity in Austin, Minnesota.

By Halloween, award-winning writer David Neiwert had picked up the story at Crooks and Liars. In The mainstreaming of the radical right: Conservatives run and hide from their culpability in spreading hate, Neiwert noted an extended interview Bluestem conducted with Johnson.

I'd bought a "burner" cellphone and called a number Johnson had posted online after reading up on America's neo-nazi movement. Johnson cordially shared his views during the hour and a half interview. Read them in NSM's SE MN Samuel Johnson [part one]: races separate and unequal, NSM SE MN's Sam Johnson, part two: that neo-old time religion, and NSM SE MN's Sam Johnson, part three: old libels and a familiar political agenda .

Other Fall 2009 BSP posts about Johnson and the media response to his activities here, here, and here.

Bluestem's work on Sam Johnson brought the tip that "Robert Erickson" would be a newsworthy speaker at the Tea Party Against Amnesty organized by anti-immigrant activist Ruthie Hendrycks and conservative radio personality Sue Jeffers. This was immigrant rights activist, glitterati, Occupy movement member and now anti-foreclosure movement organizer Nick Espinosa's first prank to break through on national blogs.

Joseph Benjamin Thomas? In Indymedia coverage of the Tea Party Against Amnesty, Hokanson captured the other white supremacist named in the unsealed indictment in Anti-Racists Steal the Show at White Supremacist "Tea Party Against Amnesty":

That one guy from the Nazi rally! He's always there, and he'll tell you that he's carrying weapons. At the raucous Austin rally last month, local police identified him as Joseph Benjamin Thomas, 38, of Mendota Heights. After trying to join the Nazi rally but being detained when a Mower County Deputy noticed he was wearing body armor and carrying a knife, he was questioned and stated he also had an expandable baton and a stun gun, according to the police report. He was disarmed but allowed to pick up the weapons later. At Saturday's rally at the Capitol, he appeared to pull some kind of weapon in the scuffle after another rally attendee knocked a protester off his bike. (Photo: Thomas at the State Capitol on Saturday (left) and at neo-Nazi rally in Austin, MN on October 17 (right).

At the time, some journalists like Post Bulletin editor Jay Furst were dismissive of the blog coverage--but not so dismissive to turn down an appearance on Almanac the night before the Tea Party Against Amnesty. Furst praised his own paper's news judgment in not covering Johnson too much, calling him:

one fellow who had put this effort together; I think there are more people in this studio than typically turn out for the rallies. So who is he? He's a guy who's had a somewhat checkered criminal history who just happens to be a member of the National Socialist Movement and organizes rallies now and then.

Cathy Wurzer: I can hear viewers say, Well, Jay, well then, why bother to cover a guy like this?

Furst: Well, that's exactly right. And we try to balance the amount of time that we devote to this. There are certainly bigger stories than this going on in Austin. . . .

Asked about bloggers' response to the PB's coverage, Furst said, ". . .I think people recognize this as a fairly small story. . ."

Wurzer chirps in that some readers felt that Johnson was "labelled unfairly" and Furst says that the paper took some heat from bloggers that the paper hadn't called him into account as a neo-nazi. It's a real lovefest for the three, who must be pleased to see their judgement of this trivial news issue so completely confirmed by the unsealed federal affidavit.

The Post Bulletin has posted the Johnson weapons possession indictment online, and notes the agencies involved in the investigation:

The case is the result of an investigation by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, with assistance from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations; the University of Minnesota Police Department; the Minneapolis Police Department; the St. Paul Police Department; the Fairmont Police Department; and the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Apparently the Department of Homeland Security were a bit more concerned by Johnson's activities than were the gentle folk at the Post Bulletin and TPT. According to the Strib report:

According to the affidavit, Johnson was a former member and Minnesota leader of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist group, and had gone on to form his own group, called the Aryan Liberation Movement.

With the new group, Johnson planned to "recruit and train other white supremacist sympathizers toward a final goal of committing acts of violence against the United States government and minority individuals," the affidavit said.

Thomas came to the FBI's attention when he hosted National Socialist Movement meetings in 2010 and discussed forming the new group with Johnson, the affidavit said.

As a review of online media reveals, that was not the first time Johnson and Thomas worked together in Austin. More on their activities from the Strib:

Authorities began looking into Johnson and Thomas in 2010, as part of an investigation into domestic terrorism.

However, the men have not been charged with terrorism. Johnson was indicted earlier this month on weapons charges, and Thomas was indicted on drug charges. Court documents were unsealed this week after the men made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court.

"We certainly believed them to be a legitimate threat," said FBI spokesman Kyle Loven. When asked whether the men had any specific plans or targets, he said he could not comment because of the indictments.

The indictments said Johnson has prior convictions for armed crimes and is not allowed to have weapons, but from late 2010 through late last year he was found with five weapons — including a semi-automatic assault rifle — and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

Thomas was indicted on four charges related to possession and sale of methamphetamine. . . .

Read the rest. A spokester from the ADL, which has tracked Johnson since 2009, called Johnson a minor player and said that gun charges are " 'a very common way that extremists get arrested, and it's a very solid charge too...' "

Who were Johnson and Thomas's targets in "the government"? And who were the intended victims in Minnesota's "minority" community? And which "left-wing individuals" were to be attacked with explosives?

Photographs: Sam Johnson (above); Joseph Benjamin Thomas (below).

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Sally Jo Sorensen's picture
Sally Jo Sorensen

Sally Jo Sorensen publishes Bluestem Prairie for those who prefer take their corn with a progressive chaser.